How did Liz Truss go from an outsider to the main contender?
“It’s true that she didn’t have the most support within the Conservative Party. In the first stage of the elections, when the group’s parliamentarians had to choose two candidates, she only got a third of the votes and barely made it. But once she was one of those two candidates, she showed herself to be a deeply conservative candidate. She has shown loyalty to Boris Johnson, who is still very popular with many members of the party.
Her rival Rishi Sunak resigned as Treasury Secretary out of dissatisfaction with Johnson. In addition, shortly before his resignation, he had decided to raise additional taxes, including for British health care, and that is of course difficult for the Conservatives. Truss, on the other hand, wants to cut taxes to stimulate economic growth. She seems to be selling a fairy tale to her party members, and they believe it.”
Partly because of her intention to lower taxes and make the market work, she is already being called the new Thatcher. Does that comparison hold up?
“In any case, she does everything she can to highlight that comparison. Among other things, in her wardrobe choices and the photos she has made, there are clear winks to Thatcher.
“Yet she is miles away from Thatcher as far as I’m concerned. Thatcher was very straightforward and always started from her ideological framework, while Truss has not really shown that she would share that. When she was in college, she chaired the local Liberal Democrats. Later she switched to the Tories because there she had more opportunities to realize her ambitions. She changed her mind about Brexit just as much: before she was not a supporter, today she is a convinced Brexiter.
“In that respect, she reminds me more of Boris Johnson. He is also not an ideologue, but selected what he could use. Johnson wanted to become prime minister. That is also the case with Truss. Once she was Secretary of State, she regularly dined with prominent people in the party. She already knew then that it would end badly for Johnson. Still, she didn’t openly drop him off, because she knew she would have the best chances that way. This shows some strategic ingenuity. But whether she can run the country is another question.”
Do you doubt that?
“She has a very difficult assignment. Just like us, the British are moaning under energy prices and healthcare is also creaking at its seams. Truss wants to keep spending, but cut taxes. She counts on being able to finance that because the economy would grow. But at the moment that seems very unbelievable.
“The question is also whether she can keep her party together. Truss is attached to Johnson, but his faction has pushed him out of the government. She has to get those people back, while she will also have to make concessions to the more moderate parts of the party. But in the end, the real litmus test will follow in two years’ time with the new elections.”
What would her premiership mean for the European Union?
“That too is very unpredictable. She has already indicated that she would like to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol (that protocol stipulates that Northern Ireland remains in the single European market, JL). She also wants to abolish other agreements with the EU. That sounds again like power talk. Because if you were to implement that, taking into account the economic problems that are already there, it would mainly seem like a recipe to send the country even further into the depths.”